SALT LAKE CITY — Free transit for all, roadways teaming with electric vehicles, a lot more multi-family housing, transit expansions, cleaner air and more walkable communities are all part of a planning vision approved unanimously by the Legislature-created Point of the Mountain Development Commission Monday evening.
After more than a year of meetings, consultant analyses and gathering input from thousands of stakeholders and residents, the commission approved a "preferred scenario" that will act as a guiding document to manage the state's ongoing, explosive growth.
The plan, which now moves to the Legislature for its consideration, embodies elements from two of the scenarios presented to the public last November and represent the most proactive and expensive of the options.
Utah's nation-leading population influx is fueling a growth arc that could see Salt Lake and Utah counties each playing host to more than 1.6 million residents by 2065. Without active management and investment, commission findings indicate the growth will lead to an array of unfortunate outcomes, including higher housing costs, longer commutes, worsening air quality, fewer new jobs and lost wage growth.
After months of sifting and aggregating economic data, survey results and stakeholder and public input, the commission posed five possible growth management strategies back in November.
Those ranged from doing nothing new and sticking with current funding levels for new roads and transit and allowing the impacts of new growth to play out on their own, to the most aggressive and pricey option that would add numerous new roadways, make big public transit investments, target air quality improvement efforts and employ planning and zoning policies to keep housing costs in check.
The so-called "Scenario D" and "Scenario E" pathways earned the most votes from participants in the visioning process,and were essentially approved as a combined plan by the commission, but also come with a hefty price tag. Cost of implementation includes spending an estimated $11.4 billion on combined new road and transit options.
But taken together, it's a plan that does the most to protect housing costs, cultivate vibrant job growth and keep commute times and air quality degradation to a minimum. It's also projected to generate $19.7 billion in future state sales and income tax revenue.
Commission findings indicate the blueprint will help cultivate and keep 150,000 new, high-paying jobs that each have a multiplier impact of supporting 12 additional jobs, almost $1 million in added wages, and over $17,000 in tax revenues.
The nonprofit planning organization Envision Utah helped coordinate the outreach and research work for the commission. Envision President/CEO Robert Grow said the failure to make good decisions now could result in those jobs simply vanishing.
"Our companies will expand out of state, other companies won’t come and we may never even notice what we lost," Grow said.
Commission member and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said before the meeting that the work of the group is aimed at pre-empting the grim future that would accompany a planning approach that turned a blind eye to expected needs.
"Our goal is really to try to forecast what we’re facing here," said McAdams, who also co-chaired the commission's subcommittee on transportation. "The Point of the Mountain area is changing dramatically, and the reality is the future will be so much different than what we see today. This is about planning ahead and preparing for it.
"If we do nothing, we're going to see massive gridlock and headaches in that area."
Numerous new roadways, including a westside multi-lane freeway through south Salt Lake County and north Utah County, multiple east-west connectors through the area and key transit expansions, including taking the TRAX Blue Line from its current terminus at Draper Town Center westward across the freeway to the Draper Prison site are all potential new transportation additions under the plan. It also includes the novel proposal to make the entire UTA system free-fare, which the commission said could expand ridership exponentially and preclude the necessity to invest even more in new transit infrastructure.
One of the keystones of the combined scenarios is a plan to redevelop the 700-acre Draper prison site to feature a world-class academic/research institution presence with accompanying repurposing that takes an urban-style approach.
That would include a mix of multifamily, townhouse and single-family residential construction, office space, retail and civic space. It would also feature green space corridors and connection to transit, thanks in part to a westward extension of the TRAX Blue Line.
Implementing the expansive plan will require unprecedented coordination and cooperation between and among multiple state and local government jurisdictions.
Commission Co-chairman Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, told the Deseret News last week that he'll be running legislation this session to establish a panel to oversee the state-owned state prison property.
"The Legislature needs to give some special consideration to what kind of body should be empowered to move that property forward to its best use," he said. "The best structure to address this is likely a board with the authority to plot that path."
Snow said he'll be working with state legislative leaders to formulate a timeline and strategy for beginning to implement the plan, pending their approval. The commission will also be seeking funding to complete phase 3 of its work, which will move on to exploring and researching how the anticipated new infrastructure can be funded.
The commission's output thus far has laid the groundwork for one of the most ambitious planning efforts ever tackled in Utah, Snow said, and while "much more work lies ahead of us," planning for the state's ongoing growth and expansion in the Point of the Mountain area is critical to "the future economic well-being of our state."
Additional details on the work and finding of the Point of the Mountain Development Commission can be reviewed at pointofthemountainfuture.org.